Ravens' Baxter confident he'll turn the corner

Burned by Eagles, cornerback certain of his ability to rebound

August 23, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

After Terrell Owens outran the Ravens' defense to the end zone Friday night, the Philadelphia Eagles receiver used a flick of the wrist to send the ball spinning, much like the mind of Gary Baxter.

In that one embarrassing moment on national television, Baxter lost a footrace along with his usual cool demeanor. The Ravens cornerback jawed with and shoved Owens for the rest of their preseason matchup, his rage hitting its peak when he yanked Owens' face mask.

So, will the maddening play that sent Baxter out of control crash into his regular-season performances?

"I had all day yesterday to contemplate it. Today is a new day," Baxter said. "It's over. I got amnesia. It's something that you've got to move on. If you let anything like that linger on, that can affect your next play or your next job."

Baxter might want to forget, but other teams possibly will not. Owens' 81-yard touchdown catch marked the second time in three appearances that Baxter was beaten deep.

It was only seven months ago when he surrendered a 49-yard touchdown catch to then-Tennessee Titans receiver Justin McCareins in the third quarter of the Ravens' playoff loss, a score that put the Titans ahead 14-10.

Unlike the play with Owens - in which Baxter initially hesitated and then failed to catch up to the sprinting receiver - he overran the deep pass against the Titans, allowing McCareins to make the decisive catch.

When asked if he anticipated teams to try to test him downfield more often, Baxter struck a defiant attitude.

"Teams can try, but I'm going to hurt you, I promise you that," Baxter said. "Those are the only two plays you can really say I got beat on in how many games? So, you do the math. I'm confident in my game and know what I can do."

Confidence could be just as important to a cornerback's game as speed. Baxter's predecessor, Duane Starks, often would go in a tailspin for a stretch of games after being burned for a big play.

"That's the nature of the job; you can't play scared," secondary coach Johnnie Lynn said. "You have to play with confidence in what you can do. He [Baxter] has total confidence. It's the mind-set of, `Do it to me again. You got that one, but I'm going to compete for the next one.' "

Beyond that first play, Baxter didn't allow another catch. But that effort comes with an asterisk. Baxter was penalized for holding Owens in the second quarter and then was flagged for flagrantly grabbing his face mask.

Those types of outbursts are usually reserved for cornerback Chris McAlister, not Baxter.

"That's not like me," Baxter said. "You'll never see that again. That's one of the things I learned from."

The challenge for Baxter these days is just as much physical as psychological.

He is still not at full strength after undergoing hernia surgery this offseason and is still dealing with discomfort from tearing scar tissue. His health, Baxter admits, has played a part in the two big plays he has allowed, but he doesn't want to use it as an excuse.

There is no guarantee he will be totally recovered when the regular season opens in three weeks.

"It's something that you can't put a time frame on it," Baxter said. "Sooner or later, it's got to come around. You get impatient, and I'm getting impatient. It'll happen when it's supposed to happen."

There is similar uncertainty regarding a possible contract extension.

Team officials want to lock up Baxter before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in March but can't complete a deal until they can free up cap room by restructuring the contract of offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden.

"It's a good feeling knowing that your team wants to keep you, but you never know how things will work out," Baxter said. "It's not something I'm going to worry about out on the football field where I could mess myself up. I don't have any control over it, so I just don't worry about it."

And Baxter seems determined not to let any outside issues - or past performances - stop him from regaining his poise on the field.

"It's a mistake when you fail to learn from your mistakes," Baxter said. "It's about how you bounce back and how you hold your head up."

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